By Ashwin Hemmathagama
Our Lobby Correspondent
Leader of the Opposition Ranil Wickremesinghe on Tuesday accused the Government of using the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) to suppress rival politicians and Opposition political parties by highlighting the recent arrest of Azath Salley.
Raising questions about the arrest on par with Standing Order 23 (2), Wickremesinghe demanded to know the “name of the terrorist organisation or the movement Azath Salley held membership or got involved to get arrested under PTA”.
“Why was action taken on Azath Salley under the Prevention of Terrorism Act rather than under average law? Will this Act be used further for suppressing politicians of the Opposition and public forces? Since terrorism has been terminated by now, will the Prevention of Terrorism Act be abrogated? If not why?” Wickremesinghe asked the Government.
In response, Prime Minister and Minister of Buddha Sasana and Religious Affairs D.M. Jayaratne stated that the PTA was helpful in defeating the LTTE and the Government was not using it for political purposes.
“The Opposition and some other parties are involved in creating unpleasant struggles in the country. The world has changed badly and we should not be a part of it. Intelligence sources have warned us that prevailing peace in the country could be harmed with Azath Salley making provoking statements and comments to the media on several occasions. He has given an interview to an Indian publication which was published on 22 April 2013. In that interview he has stated that Muslims living in Sri Lanka have no other solution but to take arms. There are Muslims living in all 25 Districts in Sri Lanka. There are 51 Muslim countries and they will believe that we are ill-treating the Muslims in Sri Lanka. So Azath Salley has violated Clause 120 of the Penal Code,” said Prime Minister Jayaratne.
According to the Leader of the Opposition, the PTA was brought in to suppress the LTTE’s terrorist activities and to proscribe the organisation and other similar organisations.
“However, since it was observed that this Act contained a number of shortcomings, the Prevention of Terrorism Act was passed in 1979 to replace it. Here, we took Prevention of Terrorism Act passed by the United Kingdom Parliament on terrorism in Northern Ireland as our basis. Under this Act, action was taken against terrorists in the south and north and arrests were made. Now, the war in the north is over and terrorism has been prevented. In such a situation, there arises no need for executing the Prevention of Terrorism Act. As such, this Act should have been abrogated. At the inquiries made on this matter, the Government stated on several occasions in this House itself that they were not going to execute the Prevention of Terrorism Act,” he said.
Wickremesinghe went on to add that the use of PTA was cause for concern. “It is said that he has been taken into custody based on a statement allegedly made by him. Politicians may make different statements. We have witnessed instances in which they make statements with as well as without responsibility. Salley made this statement at a time in which the Government was taking no action whatsoever regarding the harassment of Muslims; at a time when Muslim leaders in the government were keeping quiet. Against such a backdrop, if there are charges that the frantic statement made by Salley contains some elements of wrongdoing and irresponsibility, what should have been done first was to inquire whether he in fact has made such a statement and to take action under ordinary law if it is confirmed after such investigations that he has committed an offence. Contrarily, his being arrested under the Prevention of Terrorism Act can by no means be condoned.”
“For this reason, the present conduct of the Government raises serious questions. The conclusion we can arrive at through this conduct is that the Government is abusing the Prevention of Terrorism Act to suppress its political opponents. This situation may be aggravated in future. The Government may even resort to misuse this Act to suppress the waves of public protest rising against its misconduct throughout the country. This is a clear indication of the trend towards an autocracy. This is a very perilous state of affairs,” he warned.